Wednesday, December 23, 2015

New book: Menus for Movieland: Newspapers and the Emergence of American Film Culture

I just received a copy of a new book I am especially excited about. It is Menus for Movieland: Newspapers and the Emergence of American Film Culture, by Richard Abel. The book is published by the University of California Press.

Richard Abel is Emeritus Professor of International Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Michigan. He has authored and edited a number of books, including two which belong on the shelf of anyone seriously interested in early film, The Ciné Goes to Town: French Cinema, 1896-1914 (1998) and Encyclopedia of Early Cinema (2010). Other key books include The Sounds of Early Cinema (2001), Americanizing the Movies and “Movie-Mad” Audiences, 1910–1914 (2006), and Flickers of Desire: Movie Stars of the 1910s (2011). 

The publisher description for his newest book reads thus: "At the turn of the past century, the main function of a newspaper was to offer “menus” by which readers could make sense of modern life and imagine how to order their daily lives. Among those menus in the mid-1910s were several that mediated the interests of movie manufacturers, distributors, exhibitors, and the rapidly expanding audience of fans. This writing about the movies arguably played a crucial role in the emergence of American popular film culture, negotiating among national, regional, and local interests to shape fans’ ephemeral experience of movie going, their repeated encounters with the fantasy worlds of “movieland,” and their attractions to certain stories and stars. Moreover, many of these weekend pages, daily columns, and film reviews were written and consumed by women, including one teenage girl who compiled a rare surviving set of scrapbooks. Based on extensive original research, Menus for Movieland substantially revises what movie going meant in the transition to what we now think of as Hollywood."

Why am I excited about this new book? Because, it is a film researcher's delight. Even though I am primarily intersted in the films of the 1920's, there is much to be learned from this study focusing on the filmworld of the mid-1910s. In other words, not all that much changed in the way American newspapers covered Hollywood a decade later.

The chapters:

1. The Industry Goes to Town (and Country)

Entr’ acte Local and Regional Newsreels

2. “Newspapers Make Picture-Goers”

Entr’ acte Newspaper Movie Contests

3. “In Movie Land, with the Film Stars”

Entr’acte Cartoons and Comic Strips

4. “Film Girls” and Their Fans in Front of the Screen

Entr’ acte Motion Picture Weeklies

5. Edna Vercoe’s “Romance with the Movies”
“As richly packed as an early twentieth-century Sunday newspaper but infinitely better researched, this is an authoritative and comprehensive account of the connections between newspapers and the movies in the mid-1910s. Blending local close-ups and sweeping nationwide panoramas, Abel offers a richly textured view of emergent film stardom, advertising campaigns, early film criticism, and even fan activities—all crucial aspects of American film culture that were enabled and shaped by the nation’s countless newspapers.”—Gregory A. Waller, editor of Film History and author of Main Street Amusements: Movies and Commercial Entertainment in a Southern City, 1896–1930

“An essential study that provides an urgently needed context for historians of film culture before 1920. Readers will discover how, when, and why newspaper coverage of the movies took the forms it did, as talented newspaperwomen helped national media industries engage varied local audiences. Abel not only identifies and fills a significant gap in the literature but also clears a space for further investigation.”—Mark Cooper, author of Universal Women: Filmmaking and Institutional Change in Early Hollywood

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